Growing up can be hard under the best of circumstances. But try sharing with a friend your most intimate problem, one you secretly confront every day: that you live with a disease ravaging your waste disposal system.
IBD patients often live with cramps, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, urgency, stomach pain, joint pain, skin conditions, bloating, weight loss, exhaustion, low red blood counts and other symptoms not easily discussed in polite society. It is much more serious than irritable bowel syndrome, with which it is often confused. IBS, while troublesome, does not cause inflammation and is not an autoimmune disease.
Of the 1.4 million people in the United States who suffer from IBD, about a third are under age 30, and their number is rising. The autoimmune disorder is believed to be caused by some combination of genetics, environmental risks and an abnormality of the immune system, and it affects as many as 396 per 100,000 population, mostly Caucasians, according to the Centers for Disease Control, though ethnic differences are closing.
The rate among Ashkenazi Jews is 2 to 4 times greater. IBD is widely thought of as a Jewish genetic disease, even though racial and ethnic differences have been narrowing, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Chava Z. Cohen, 30, of Enfield, Conn., who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at 18, speaks cautiously about Crohn’s and only on an as-needed basis, when she’s fairly certain the other person will empathize rather than judge.